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Image by Benjamin Child


Check out the video to hear more experiences and gain more insights!

Do you only have a few minutes? Feel free to scroll through the video's timestamps:

  1. 01:00 Landing a Career Direction with the Right Mentor

  2. 05:30 Role Models of the Past & Present (including Dr. Alder)

  3. 14:34 Career Development with the Rutgers iJobs Program

  4. 20:33 Work-Life Synergy

  5. 23:40 Keeping on Top of Career Trends

  6. 31:11 Supporting the Future

  7. 39:40 Tips for Current and Future Leaders


It is not easy to find someone as committed to their roles as Dr Janet Alder, an Associate Professor, Assistant Dean for Graduate Studies, and Assistant Vice-Chancellor for Postdoctoral Affairs at Rutgers University. Recently, I had the privilege to sit with Dr Alder to chat about the evolution of STEM career development and leadership.

Dr Alder is the mind behind the highly successful iJOBS [Interdisciplinary Job Opportunities for Biomedical Sciences] program at Rutgers, which has supported thousands of students and postdoctoral trainees with career development beyond academia. In our conversation, we dive into the challenges the STEM community faces today, from creating spaces where students are valued and truly feel like they belong, to recruiting postdoctoral trainees back into academia to pursue faculty positions. 

On top of helping solve these big issues, Dr Alder runs a neuroscience lab, “[B]eing super organized is very helpful,” she tells me. She then introduces me to the concept of “work-life synergy,” and her belief that people should know about the other responsibilities you are dealing with in life. 

Obviously, I ask Dr Alder about the STEM leader of the past, the present and the future. She candidly shares her views and experience, and indicates that the future leaders must find allies, communicate often, and know their own weaknesses.

Dr Alder hesitates to call herself a leader, rather, she sees herself as a “helper.” In this inspiring talk, we discuss her ability to build and nurture relationships with students and trainees to support their needs - the actions of a true leader.

Check out the video to hear more experiences and gain more insights!

Do you only have a few minutes? Feel free to scroll through the video's timestamps:

Section 1: Who is Kurt Nielsen?

Section 2: STEM Leadership in the Past

Section 3: Dealing with & Leading people

Section 4: Transitioning out of academia

Section 5: Becoming a CEO

Section 6: Today's leadership challenges

Section 7: What do future leaders need?


When was the last time you heard someone's journey to the C-Suite and left with information you could leverage for yourself or share with others? Kurt Nielsen's story is one to sit with because this authentic conversation drops gems in every step of his journey from the lab to CEO.

First, I asked Kurt to share a bit about his journey - from getting his PhD in Chemistry, working in a startup, moving up the ranks in generic pharmaceuticals, and rising into the C-Suite (Chief Operating Officer, Chief Technology Officer, Chief Executive Officer). He explains that each role had vastly different spheres of management and leadership with all those different roles. And currently, he's just passed his one-year mark as an entrepreneur!

With all of this experience under his belt, I wanted to explore with him - what has the "evolution of STEM Leadership" looked like? Knowing that career paths in the past seem narrow, we discuss, in particular, the limited decision to stay, or leave academia and go into "industry", then move up the organizational hierarchy in linear order.

From Kurt’s experience, he remembers within the company there were two paths, typically called "ladders" that you could move up - technical or managerial. Unfortunately, these weren't really differentiating options given each "ladder" still increased your responsibility, scope of work, and increased engagement with people. But we acknowledge dealing with people is really the hard part.

We also mention in the video, that currently there are so many more opportunities that have opened up for the STEM professional that they can "cut their own paths."

As we settled into our conversation, I asked Kurt to share his experience transitioning to his first role outside of the lab. "It was thrilling!", he says. Hired in a startup biotech in a dual role as a research scientist and group leader for an analytical chemistry department, he comments that there was no playbook on leadership and that you needed to manage the needs of your people to execute their work, as well as, inspire them.

Kurt and I go into many more thoughts on STEM Leadership - including a challenging moment as a leader and his transition into becoming a CEO.

"What do I need to do to get to the next level in my organization?"
"How can I effectively transition in my scientific career?"
"How do I gain support for my innovative ideas?"

These are the types of questions scientists regularly ask me. To answer them, I draw from my own experience, as well as that of others working with scientists, and the conclusions are surprisingly similar. In addition to the time and background required of a STEM professional, there are four essential skills senior leaders, hiring managers, and even investors consistently look for in a strong leader: collaboration, adaptability, communication, and the ability to create a shared vision.

Full Article on Association for Women in Science:

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